Area residents filled the Derby City Council meeting room June 25 as they came to express their concerns about water coming into their basements and to see if city officials could help them.
Their hope was to have the city turn on two old wells in the area that they say could ease the amount of water present in their homes.
Several of them spoke to council members during the public forum portion of the meeting. No formal action was taken during that period.
There has been flooding in the past, but “this is by far the worst,” said Carrie Kroeker, who has lived in her house at Bluff and 103rd Street South for 20 years.
Although the wells are owned by the city and were in use before Derby started buying its water from Wichita, none of the affected residents are within the city limits.
Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell, who represents the district, said that it could cost $12,000 to $15,000 to run the wells for 60 days. However, one isn’t working and the other’s condition is questionable, according to the county.
Howell said he realizes operating a well or wells would only be a one-time fix and that there would need to be a long-term solution for residents. The county commissioners didn’t approve any money for a well operation at a special meeting, also held June 25.
While sympathetic to their plight, City Council members stressed that the situation was one in which Sedgwick County needed to take control.
“You need to get your ducks in a row and give us something to work with,” said council member Rocky Cornejo, in reference to the county.
City Manager Kathy Sexton agreed with Cornejo’s assessment.
“He summed it up,” she said. “We told the county that we’re willing to work with them but we need to know what they want to do and what they will pay for.”
Derby isn’t going to pay for the well operation.
“We understand people are suffering; we just need the county to commit,” she said.
She gave credit to Howell for getting the ball rolling for the residents, but he doesn’t have the votes on the five-member commission to get the funding.
And even if the wells go on, there’s no guarantee that they will work, she said.
“They are literally saying turn them on and get people’s hopes up,” she said.
Sexton also questioned the funding figure, saying that $15,000 isn’t enough for labor and electricity and any needed repairs.
The one thing people can agree on is that turning on the wells would only be a short term “Band-Aid” approach.
The county could put in its own wells, but that would be a huge expense.
Sexton said she welcomed residents to the meeting, saying that Derby has no problem “being neighborly.”
One of those attending was J.R. Boria, who said he had more than 17 inches of water in his basement.
He went from having a four-bedroom house to a two-bedroom, he said.
He disputed the contention that using the wells won’t work.
“You say the wells didn’t work, but it did work for me in the past,” Boria said. “We really need it.”
Council members empathized with the residents, but said there was little they could do.
“Our hands are tied here,” said member Cheryl Bannon who urged people such as Boria to take the issue to the county. “Mr. Howell is who you want to speak to.”
In response to a query by Boria, Bannon did say they were Derby’s pumps, but the residents pay taxes to the county, not Derby.
Member Andrew Swindle, who is a professor of hydrology at Wichita State, also said he was sympathetic, but there are no easy answers.
“If we could flip a switch [and solve it], I would be all in favor of it,” he said.
But the wells may not solve the problem, he said, and past studies have shown that the groundwater level has changed rapidly. If there’s any comfort, it’s that groundwater moves quickly in this area and with the lessening of rain, the levels should drop.
But after the meeting, Boria said he was disappointed that there was no resolution that he could use from the Derby council.
Another resident, Mike Knight, who lives at 81st and Lulu, said he’s running three sump pumps to get the water out of his basement.
His contention is that even getting the water out doesn’t help that much because without getting it to the river, residents are forced to dump it into their yards or ditches and it just goes back into the groundwater and then right back into their basement.
“We’re pumping and there’s a lot of people in my position,” he said. “But if we could just get it out of here, it would help a lot.”
Having the wells turned on like they did previously didn’t help him much, but it did assist others, Knight said.
In 2016, the county paid $21,742 for wells to be operated for four months, taking out 241 million gallons of water to the Arkansas River.
For Kroeker, the current situation was one of “everyone just passing the buck.”
“The wells would make a difference.”
There are four of them within a mile of her house, she said.
Kroeker said she has spent thousands of dollars on sump pumps and her electric bills have quadrupled.
She has flood insurance but all it covers is if the house is lifted off its foundation by a flood, not this type of damage.
Furthermore, she said, she wasn’t in a flood plain when she bought the house and wouldn’t have done so had it been in one.
Social media also contributed to the talk.
“This is not a new problem for us who live around 95th and 103rd Streets,” said Brenda Waterman, who added that residents have been “battling it since 2007.”
Past politicians have gotten some work done, but there’s a need for a permanent fix, she said.
“I am amazed that we can repave a road every year yet can’t come to a solution for the water issues. This has been a problem for many, many years and yet no long-term solution,” she said.
After all the discussion, Howell said he was disappointed there was no relief for the homeowners.
Howell said if there’s a workable plan, property owners would be willing to chip in to pay for moving the water out. While there may be disagreement now as to whether it would help or not, people did see relief in the past.
Boria said he would love to see answers.
“This is awful,” he said. “We’re in a desperate situation.”
At a special meeting June 25, the Sedgwick County Commission voted down Commissioner Jim Howell’s proposal to provide the City of Derby $15,000 toward turning on an old well.
Howell, along with local residents, believes turning on the well could help relieve flooding that has plagued an unincorporated area in southeastern Sedgwick County since May.
The commission previously voted June 18 to request Derby turn on two abandoned water wells, but the city responded to the request saying one of the wells is inoperable and the other is unreliable.
Originally, the county anticipated it would cost between $12,000 and $15,000 to run the wells for 60 days.
The wells were part of Derby’s water supply until 2003, when the city opted to buy its water from Wichita rather than build a treatment plant to meet the needs of its growing community.
David Spears, county public works director, said June 25 that Derby was requesting a $70,000 guarantee from the county before committing to repairing and operating the wells.
In response to Derby’s request for $70,000, Howell on June 25 made his proposal to provide $15,000 toward turning on at least one of the wells.
“If there’s a broken well, I’m not saying we should repair that well,” he said. “There’s an urgency to this. People down there are suffering right this minute.”
The motion failed, with only Howell and Commissioner Michael O’Donnell supporting it.
Commission Chairman David Dennis told homeowners at the meeting that he felt sympathy toward their situation but he couldn’t support Howell’s motion because it was a short-term “Band-Aid” fix.
A homeowner present at the meeting asked if the state of Kansas could help by declaring a state of emergency. Dennis said damage in the area did not meet the standards needed to declare one.
Commissioner Lacey Cruse, who also voted against Howell’s motion, suggested commissioners schedule a joint meeting with the Derby City Council to plan a response to the flooding.
“It sounds like we’re telling them what to do and they’re telling us what to do, when we should be sitting in the same room talking about it,” Cruse said.
Though it may be far into the future, Howell suggested one long-term solution could be for the cities of Haysville, Mulvane, Derby and Wichita to form a water treatment plant at the now-flooded area.
Another long-term solution suggested at the June 25 meeting was forming a special improvement district in the area to develop a flood drainage system.